Before and After: A “Despised” Red Brick Fireplace Is Revitalized with a $20 Refresh

published May 27, 2023
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About this before & after
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Before: a red brick fireplace
Credit: Julia Cole

There are lots of ways to revamp old brick fireplaces without having to demo any brick. Paint is a common fix, tiling over it is another option, and adding boards that wrap around brick is yet another choice. This brick fireplace redo by Julia Cole (@twentylot) used a grout cover and water mixture to revamp these very, very red bricks in the home of her mom, Mai.

“My mom despises her red brick fireplace, which came with the home,” Julia says of the “before.” “She has been in this house for 30-plus years.” That’s a long time to hate a major focal point in your home, and in very little time — about 36 hours — Julia and Mai made a change for the better. The result is a cottagey brick and mortar look that cost about $20 to create.

Credit: Julia Cole

Mai had shown Julia a grout coverup by Leanne Ford that she really liked, and Julia realized it was easily replicable with only a few supplies: SimpleGrout pre-mixed grout in Arctic white, thick sponges, water, big buckets, and a dropcloth for drips. 

Julia’s advice for this DIY project? Definitely wear gloves, and definitely lay down a drop cloth. “After the project, I felt like I was finding dried grout specks just about everywhere!” she remembers. “The grout gets under your nails and gets a bit difficult to wash out once completely dried.”

Because Julia was at her mom’s house and without her usual supplies like all of her paintbrushes and a ladder, she had to get a bit creative. She and Mai smeared on the grout wash over top of the bricks with a sponge and the one paintbrush they had, and they used a bar stool to reach the top of the 8-foot behemoth (although AT’s official recommendation is to use a ladder for safety!). But problem-solving is part of the DIY process, Julia says, and the sponge strokes help create more of a hand hewn look.

Credit: Julia Cole

Julia started with one thinner mixture of grout mix plus water and one thicker mixture of grout mix with less water because she wanted some tint and texture variation, but she ended up combining the two because a medium-thick mixture worked better for the look she was after. The key is to maintain a bit of a gritty or thick texture and not have the mix-water mixture become completely liquid, Julia advises. “We played around with the texture a bit before we found something that she liked,” she recalls.

In a nutshell, “Combine pre-mixed grout with your desired amount of water, sponge application on the brick fronts, and paint between the grout lines,” Julia instructs on Instagram. “Let dry, and voila! An easy and affordable upgrade that packs a punch.” And it certainly does brighten up Mai’s living room. 

Credit: Julia Cole

“When I was growing up, this fireplace used to intimidate me — maybe because of the color and material — but I always felt like it was an eyesore I would keep away from,” Julia says. “I remember my mom would also try to cover it up by placing things on or in front of it to seemingly call less attention to it. After breaking down the steps with grout washing, it seemed pretty straightforward with just diluting a product that I had worked with previously.” In total, the project cost about $20, but Julia says it would be even cheaper if you already had a lot of paint supplies on hand. 

Julia says this was her first DIY project with her mom, and she looks forward to working on more with her. “I’m really happy I was able to help her with this project and for her to love her space,” Julia says. “She now no longer tries to cover the fireplace up and even styles it now!” 

Inspired? Submit your own project here.